The nation was outraged in 2011 after a scandal revealed how Penn State officials covered up a prominent coach’s decades-long sexual abuse of students. In response, Florida passed the toughest child abuse reporting law in the country. Under the statute, anyonewho fails to report a known or suspected case of child abuse commits a third-degree felony, which could mean up to five years in state prison.
According to at least one expert, the law leaves too many innocent people open to Florida charges of failure to report child abuse. While well-intended, “the statute is problematic from an enforcement perspective because it is written in broad terms and is susceptible to diverse interpretations and conclusions by both law enforcement and the courts,” said a leading attorney.
And some think the penalties are too severe. “In effect, a person who fails to report child abuse or neglect will be criminally prosecuted and sentenced to the same terms of imprisonment, fines, and penalties as a perpetrator convicted of abusing or neglecting a child,” said a legal scholar.
Does Florida Law Consider Everyone a Mandatory Reporter?
Yes, under Florida Statute 39.201, Mandatory reportsof child abuse, abandonment, or neglect, applies to everyone. Although any adult in any walk of life is required to report abuse or neglect, charges often involve those who work with the public. Prosecutors charged a Fort Myers police officer with failing to report apparent neglect and abuse he observed during a traffic stop. In another case, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement charged a Daytona Beach foster care manager with felony child neglect and failure to report child abuse.
Part of the statute focuses specifically on school personnel. Pinellas Park police arrested a school supervisor on charges of failing to report abuse after a staff member assaulted a student. In Okaloosa County, police arrested an assistant school superintendent on charges of failure to report child abuse involving incidents that had occurred over several years.
In addition to individuals in school systems, the law specifies penalties for institutions like colleges and universities:
Any Florida College System institution, state university, or nonpublic college, university, or school… whose administrators knowingly and willfully, upon receiving information from faculty, staff, or other institution employees, fail to report known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect… shall be subject to fines of $1 million for each such failure.
Failure to Report Child Abuse Charges Defense
The Failure to Report law, as the Ocala Star-Banner put it at the time, is “full of holes.” The paper published an editorial about the trial of three school administrators in Bradenton in which the charges were either dismissed or reduced.
The editors point out that the law is open to defenses because it is so vague. “It requires everyone to report abuse, but doesn’t define it well enough for even trained individuals to understand. When the average citizen — remember, any person who suspects abuse is bound by this law — faces a potential felony trial, it is critical to know what behaviors must be reported,” the paper said. “What, in practical terms, constitutes abuse? What is “reasonable” suspicion? Seeing an act firsthand is one thing, but what about people who hear second-hand or third-hand reports they’re not sure about?”
An aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney would hold any prosecutor accountable to answer all those questions – and more. Did the police violate procedure or violate your rights during your arrest? Was the evidence properly collected and preserved? Was there intent – and can they prove it? If you face failure to report child abuse or neglect charges, protect your rights. Call 407-349-4211 and speak with the Orlando Criminal Defense Attorneys at the Rivas Law firm.